35 Years Ago: Roger Waters Returns to the Stage With Eric Clapton
The year 1984 is widely considered the greatest year in the history of pop music. MTV was showing music videos around the clock, and the fledgling channel, as well as mainstream radio and pop culture at large, was offering a steady stream of Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Duran Duran, Culture Club and Bruce Springsteen.
It wasn’t exactly a time for introspective, dark prog-rock tales of adultery and fever dreams, like what Roger Waters laid out on his first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, which came out in April. The album was originally conceived by Waters in 1978, concurrently with the equally bleak opus The Wall, and both were offered up to the other members of Pink Floyd.
Ultimately, the band chose to record The Wall and Waters shelved Pros and Cons until after the band’s breakup.
“I made demo tapes of them both, and in fact presented both demo tapes to the rest of the Floyd, and said, ‘Look, I'm going to do one of these as a solo project and we'll do one as a band album, and you can choose,’” Waters told the radio show The Source in 1984. “So, this was the one that was left over. Um ... I mean, it's developed an awful lot since then, I think.”
The Pros and Cons tour started in Stockholm on June 16, 1984, and included a nine-concert European run that stopped in Paris, Birmingham, London, Rotterdam and Zurich. The first North American leg included just 10 shows and debuted on July 17, 1984, with two nights in Hartford, Conn., neither of which sold out. Three shows at New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena sold out, as did a show at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. The run wrapped up with dates in Rosemont, Ill., outside of Chicago, two at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and at Montreal’s Forum.
Ticket sales lagged overall for the 1984 leg and reviews were mixed, if not downright savage. Waters has said the tour lost money and cost him almost half a million dollars. The band included Clapton, guitarist and bassist Tim Renwick, drummer Andy Newmark, bassist and organist Chris Stainton, keyboardist Michael Kamen, saxophonist Mel Collins and backup singers Katie Kissoon and Doreen Chanter. A second leg of the tour in 1985 included 17 dates with Jay Stapley taking over for Clapton.
The 1984 set included an 11-song performance of Floyd staples from several albums, including Wish You Were Here, The Wall, Animals and The Dark Side of the Moon. It even included “The Gunner’s Dream” from The Final Cut, which marked the first and only time Waters had performed anything from that album live. The second set was a performance of Pros and Cons in its entirety, with visuals from longtime Waters collaborator Nicolas Roeg and animation from The Wall wizard Gerald Scarfe.
“It was clear that Waters’ heart was in the Hitchhiking segment, and that part of the concert showcased his most impassioned singing,” critic Jim Sullivan wrote in the Boston Globe of the first show in Hartford. But Sullivan, like many writers at the time, dismissed Pros and Cons as bleak, meandering and mediocre.
“The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking is a colossal failure,” he wrote. “On record, it’s a disjointed, static bore. In concert it was a disjointed, static bore augmented by surreal visuals.” While Sullivan hailed the Floyd portion of the show, he blasted the Pros and Cons segment, calling it “convoluted and dull.”
Liam Lacey of the Toronto Globe and Mail was equally harsh, writing of the first Maple Leaf Gardens show that “Roger Waters’ music was really such an utter crock, a middle-brow and inept attempt to make a Big Statement.”
“The all-star band did its best to keep the musical weaknesses from becoming too obvious,” Lacey opined. “Looking at the faces of the players, though -- and the face of Waters himself -- it was obvious that no one seemed to be having much fun with the music.”
The critic even blasted Clapton, writing that the guitar hero “seemed positively bored.” “Although his stylish, technically perfect guitar solos were the most interesting musical portions of the show, there was never any indication of passion in his playing,” Lacey concluded.
The New York Times’ Stephen Holden was a bit kinder, hailing the first New Jersey show as a “multimedia spectacle” that was “one of the year's most imposing displays of rock theatrics and technology.”
Of the Pros and Cons portion of the set, Holden called it “an impenetrable dreamlike allegory” that included “only one solid melody. ... But the melange of sound effects and surreal, occasionally gory visuals effectively maintained an atmosphere of theatricalized paranoia and alienation."
Not much footage is publicly available from the tour and those that do exist are low quality. While Pros and Cons is certainly not Waters’ most popular work, it has stood the test of time and the guitar work of Clapton is nothing short of stellar. To many hardcore Waters fans, the album is his finest solo work, despite the rock-critic vitriol.
It was a difficult and dark time for Waters personally as he rebounded from the messy demise of Pink Floyd. Coupled with the shiny, happy pop landscape of the time, and the massive burden of The Wall's success, it’s not surprising critics were hard on his first foray back onto the world stage.
Regardless, it was an historic and bold return for Waters. To have Clapton along for the ride secured a visually and musically stunning performance, even if not everyone agreed on the results.